I am a child of colonialism, but I am decolonised.
Created: 20 March 2023
When I was a child in Australia, the older children used to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ as the national anthem of Australia.
When I was a child in Australia, I was told that Australia began in 1770 when Captain Cook arrived with a flag at Botany Bay in Sydney.
When I was a child in Australia, I experienced first-hand the racism and discrimination against my peers, just because they were ‘black’ Yidinji people.
When I was 12 years old, I remember seeing the panic on the television from White people about Eddie Mabo and the landmark decision by the High Court of Australia that rejected the notion that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ (i.e.: land belonging to no one) at the time of British invasion. Sovereignty was never ceded.
At the time, this new and accurate fact - about terra nullius - was controversial; now ingrained into law recognised that Australia was inhabited and Indigenous rights to land existed by virtue of traditional customs and laws. For the first time, the white population came to realise that the true Australian people were now not invisible, and this quite possibly threatened the white-only identity.
At Redfern in 1992, Prime Minister Paul Keating said that ‘it is a test of our self-knowledge. Of how well we know the land we live in. How well we know our history’. The rejection of terra nullius and recognition of First Australians, "establishes a fundamental truth, and lays the basis for justice" – a first ever public acknowledgement by The Commonwealth about the dispossession of First Nation’s people.
Sadly, still today in an Australian constitution there are racist acts still in writing.
CC: The Conversation (2013; AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Footnote: Paul Keating; the father of the floating of the Australian dollar, the elimination of tariffs, the deregulation of the financial sector, achieving the first federal budget surplus in Australian history, and reform of the taxation system, including the introduction of capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax, and dividend imputation. He also gave birth to: the Native Title Act to enshrine Indigenous land rights, introduced compulsory superannuation and enterprise bargaining, created a national infrastructure development program, privatised Qantas, Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and the Commonwealth Bank, established the APEC leaders' meeting, and promoted republicanism by establishing the Republic Advisory Committee (Wikipedia, 2023).
CC: The Conversation (2014; John Blaxland)
How did I become decolonised?
Being a descendant of a British-born father and family, and Danish-Irish-Australian migrant (not convict) family was a starting point. I was lucky enough to have travelled frequently throughout my childhood, along with living and growing up amongst Indigenous Australians in the Far North of Australia, shaped my awareness, knowledge and understanding of the discrepancy between white and anything other than white Australians. This gave me a foundation of how an injustice of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, and the universal declaration of human rights were playing out in the immediate reality in front of my eyes an ears (to say the least).
This injustice was experienced and shared as a discourse to put it in a sense that ‘Australians don’t know that they don’t know’ when it comes to identity, prejudice, injustice and historical inaccuracy. Experiencing indigenous people first hand - unlike many urban, southern colonial cities in Australia possibly never got the experience of knowing what a ‘black person’ is in this country. My awareness of discourse in conjunction with my international travel experiences and multicultural family background shaped my understanding of identity, which was unlike many other white Australians at the time. This of course led to an inquiry into my own identity along with forms of further and higher education to understand who I was and what it actually is to be authentically 'Australian'. This is how I found a path to decolonisation, and didn’t ignore it. I suppose not everyone gets such an opportunity, depending on their context.
Knowing your true history and identity can be confronting and empowering for all involved, but more importantly it can bring everyone together as one. These are examples of decolonising history. Knowing the whole account enables us to respect and be understood properly.
Uluru Statement from the Heart - What is it?
So what does 'decolonising the curriculum' mean?
Decolonising the curriculum refers to the process of rethinking and restructuring the content and delivery of academic programs to eliminate the dominance of Western perspectives and biases in education. Moreso, it also opens the door to new and accurate perspectives and considerations to history, culture and identity which can be terribly challenging to accept. It involves the recognition and representation of perspectives, experiences, voice, and knowledge systems that have been marginalised or excluded from the mainstream educational discourse.
Decolonising the curriculum is crucial for the UK because it has one of the largest history of colonialism and imperialism that has shaped the country's culture, identity, and worldview, along with the atrocities and trail of pain and agony upon other people and countries worldwide. Thanks to the UK Immigration Act 1948, who knew that Jamaican, Indian and people from at least 58 other countries around the world, were told that they were British?
Decolonising the curriculum promotes social justice by recognising the experiences and contributions of historically marginalised groups. (Some examples could be: Indigenous people and colour). It challenges the Eurocentric model of education that reinforces cultural hegemony and power relations that perpetuate racism, exclusion, prejudice, and discrimination. Decolonising the curriculum acknowledges the diversity of the population, enhances cultural competency, and prepares those willing to engage in challenging perspectives and facts for a globalised world where cross-cultural understanding is essential.
What is Decolonising the Curriculum in Higher Education in the UK?
Keele University has created a manifesto for decolonising its curriculum, defining this as:
“identifying colonial systems, structures and relationships, and working to challenge those systems. It is not “integration” or simply the token inclusion of the intellectual achievements of non-white cultures. Rather, it involves a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial to the making of space for other political philosophies and knowledge systems. It’s a culture shift to think more widely about why common knowledge is what it is, and in so doing adjusting cultural perceptions and power relations in real and significant ways.”
Why is this important for the UK?
I recently discovered that a large number of undergraduate higher education students shared that they had no understanding or knowledge of what colonialism is, and that they never learnt anything about this in their schooling prior to university.
EU citizens learn about the EU, whereas there is little to no EU in the English National Curriculum.
There is no inclusion about British imperialism, colonialism, or a balanced inquiry into UK history when it comes to Commonwealth countries or countries with the Monarch of England as their Head of State (some even still today: such as Australia).
The atrocities, genocide and disease that was inflicted upon other people by the United Kingdom still manifests in multiplicity through current and generational trauma. We see even today, families in Australia who still have unresolved trauma that continues to result in individual and generational health problems in multiple forms.
It is also important for the UK to develop our understanding and thinking by decolonising the curriculum because it demonstrates a high level of global awareness and transdisciplinary intelligence about how the world works, how we are connected to other things, who we are, how we express ourselves, where we are in place and time, and sharing the planet.
Many ripple effects from British colonialism is only being addressed in more recent years in Australia. National Sorry Day is an annual day that recognises the official day that the government of Australia apologised for the stolen generation - the forced removal of indigenous children from their families. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an Indigenous voice to parliament, and Mabo Day.
Decolonising the curriculum enriches knowledge production by recognising and integrating different knowledge systems, methodologies, and epistemologies. It challenges the dominance of Western-centric approaches that have marginalised and suppressed other forms of knowledge such as indigenous knowledge, oral traditions, and non-western philosophies. Decolonising the curriculum enables the integration of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches that can lead to innovative solutions to complex problems.
Decolonising the curriculum is an ongoing process that requires sustained efforts from all stakeholders in education. It involves developing critical consciousness, challenging dominant narratives, and fostering inclusive and respectful learning environments.
Decolonising the curriculum is an important step towards promoting social justice, enriching knowledge production, and fostering inclusive learning environments. It requires a commitment to ongoing dialogue, collaboration, and transformational change.
Decolonising the curriculum acknowledges the responsibility of committing to a truth-telling process that promotes an honest and respectful path forward for future generations to build upon.
It isn’t you that should feel guilty, or someone is pointing-the-finger; it is your identity that is requiring you to level up the quality of your collective identity, together.
CC: 'a painting about decolonisation' by DALL-E and me AI x Human
What is actually happening out there about 'decolonising the curriculum?'
The Coventry University have a 2030 Group Strategy and a Curriculum 2025 agenda which articulates the importance of being able to decolonise the curriculum in order to decolonise ourselves. Such actions are now not done in isolation in the UK and is an important component in developing university students.
The Coventry University state that, 'The western-centric dominance of the curriculum matters because it narrows the curriculum, diminishing the learning experience for everyone.
Particularly, it diminishes the experience of those who are currently under-represented in the curriculum, people who are not white and of Western European origin. (This also includes other groups under-represented in what is learned and seen in the classroom according to gender, disability and sexuality, which is why there are overlaps between inclusivity and decolonisation)'.
(Coventry University, 2023)
So there are initiatives and actions being taken in education in the UK to help develop a more knowledgeable perspective and understanding of history and our place and role in it for the future. However, the English national curriculum was last updated about 10 years ago now, and this is one of the key ingredients in helping to develop the psychology of the masses for a better future for the UK, in time.
At least for now, I know I am an important element for higher education in the UK because I was a child of colonialism, but now I am decolonised.
ANTAR (2023) The Redfern Speech: 30 Years On, [online] Available at: https://antar.org.au/resources/redfern-speech-30-years-on/
Coventry University (2023) 'Decolonising the Curriculum Toolkit', Curriculum 2025, Coventry University, UK.
Long, M. (2018) Jamaica: The Windrush Generation and the Illusion of Freedom, Pulitzer Center [online] Available at: https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/jamaica-windrush-generation-and-illusion-freedom
Wikipedia (2023) List of countries that have gained independence from the United Kingdom, [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_that_have_gained_independence_from_the_United_Kingdom
Wikipedia (2023) Paul Keating, Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Keating